Care and Feeding

The Empty Nester in Our Neighborhood Keeps Trying to Hang Out With Our Kids

She just invited them to a sleepover, and I’m honestly creeped out.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We moved 18 months ago (hello, COVID!) to a commuter town about an hour away from our former city and had the good fortune to land in a neighborhood of families with similar situations. There are at least three other families with preschool or grade school kids on our block. Everyone is low-key friendly, and the families with kids have been sharing child care, cookies, support, etc. since we moved in. We’re living the dream … except for our neighbor Judy.

Judy has no boundaries. Judy has repeatedly invited our kids (and those of our neighbors) to go on solo hikes with her. She has invited the kids for sleepovers at her house (speaking directly to my neighbor’s kid: “Sally, wouldn’t it be fun to have a sleepover here with me and your sister? Give mom the night off?”). She has walked into our backyards, without invitation, to construct fairy houses. She’s a bit of an old-school hippie, which is charming, but also: Lady, back off!! A number of parents on the block have repeatedly declined her invitations, but she won’t take the hint that many (most) of us are deeply uncomfortable.

I am not interested in being a mean girl to someone who clearly misses having her own children in her home (she and her husband are empty nesters), and so I am kind to her and say hello when we’re all out in the yard. But yesterday, she dropped a note in our mailbox, and in two of our neighbors’ boxes (addressed to our kids, who can’t read!), saying how sad she was that we hadn’t stopped by to show our costumes, and to please share this candy with Mom and Dad. We didn’t trick-or-treat anywhere!! The kids aren’t vaccinated!!

Judy is setting off my alarm bells left and right, and yet I can’t avoid her! How should I keep the neighborhood peace and still keep my own sense of kindness and integrity?

—Creeped Out

Dear Creeped Out,

The behaviors you’ve listed range from innocuous (Halloween note and candy in the mailbox) to uncomfortable (entering your yards uninvited and inviting kids on solo hikes and sleepovers).

Has anyone in your neighborhood spoken directly to Judy about their discomfort with her eager overtures? This isn’t really something you should rely on “hints” to convey. Be explicit.

It isn’t “mean girl” behavior to explain your boundaries to a neighbor. If she addresses your child directly while you’re standing there, it’s up to you to answer on the child’s behalf. Talk to Judy directly and shut down the sleepover or solo hike invitations with a friendly but firm explanation of why you find it unacceptable. If you’d like to offer an alternative, offer to come along on the hike.

Judy may not share your COVID concerns, so it may be worth explaining to her that Halloween was canceled due to those worries. Leave a note to that effect in her mailbox, if you’d like.

Direct communication may go a long way toward curtailing some of Judy’s more solicitous actions. If so, consider finding other ways to be kind to the empty nester on the block, ways you find more comfortable and appropriate.

—Stacia

More Advice From Slate

I hit the jackpot with my husband. He treats me like a queen, cleans the house, has a successful career that allows me to be a stay-at-home mom, encourages me to have evenings out with girlfriends, etc. We’ve been happily married for 10 years and have two wonderful children ages 5 and 7. My concern is that while I know he loves our children, he doesn’t enjoy them. He barks at the kids if there’s a sock lying around or a toy on the floor. He yells if he has to ask them twice to do anything. Should I just accept that he’ll always be hard on them? The kids are the only thing we argue about.